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This Week in Nature: Feb 6, 2009

In early online publication, scientists at the Broad Institute have used chromatin-state maps to discover 1,600 large intergenic RNAs across four mouse cell types, about 95 percent of which showed strong evolutionary conservation. A functional genomics approach found that they play a range of functions, including for embryonic stem cell pluripotency and cell proliferation.

The recession has spurred an increase in applications to science and engineering doctoral programs, says a news story. UC Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and MIT, the three largest degree grantors in the US, all saw significant increases in applications. Another story looks at two researchers who are battling to keep their labs funded with NIH grant renewals. While stats aren’t in their favor, some think the vetting process works. "We like to bemoan the limited NIH budget, and all of us who feed at the NIH trough see endless benefits to biomedical research, especially our own. But these are taxpayer dollars in hard economic times; it is not an entitlement," says Kathy Hudson, director of the Genetics and Public Policy Center of Johns Hopkins University.

Two papers from the same UCSF researchers look at the unfolded protein stress response in the endoplasmic reticulum. In one study, scientists found that when unfolded proteins accumulate in the ER, the transmembrane protein Ire1p, which can form splice isoforms of the messenger RNA for the vital stress-response protein Hac1p, oligomerizes. In the second, they show that on activation, Ire1 molecules form large, interacting clusters, to which unspliced HAC1 mRNA is recruited by means of a key conserved targeting element in the 3' untranslated region. "These ground-breaking studies have created both fertile territory for research into the regulation of mRNA localization and mRNA-mediated signaling,” says a related news story.

Scientists in Japan have showed that GTPase RHEB-1 can extend lifespan in C. elegans. RHEB-1 is required for intermittent fasting-induced longevity, whereas inhibition of RHEB-1 mimics caloric-restriction effects, they say. They also found that most of the up-regulated genes require RHEB-1 function to be induced, and that RHEB-1 and TOR signaling are required for the down-regulation of an insulin-like peptide.